Defending Justice has been both a challenging and inspiring project in many ways. The complexity and breadth of this issue is astounding, and narrowing the scope of the project to focus on the most important issues has been a difficult process. In particular, it was challenging to identify what information would be useful analysis as opposed to fascinating, but irrelevant, facts. At the same time, our "action research" process, involving activists engaged in prison activist work and academics studying criminal justice, has been extremely thought-provoking and motivating. The entire staff at Political Research Associates was involved in thinking critically about not only criminal justice but also how an analysis of the Right would apply to criminal justice. In this we were enormously supported by the active participation of the Advisory Committee as well as continued feedback from grassroots activists beyond the Advisory Committee. Over 75 leading activists and academics engaged in prison activist work and in studying criminal justice contributed their time, their enthusiasm, and their ideas to this project. Many of them also served as advisors, reading multiple drafts and providing comments at critical junctures. As a result, we are confident that this project and its process truly respects and incorporates the experience of activists and organizers who know these issues so well.
Activists working against the Prison-Industrial Complex find that only organizing against what we traditionally know to be the Right still leaves the system intact and does not hold people, who might not be Rightist but are still complicit, accountable. For example, the Clinton Administration, by most definitions liberal, passed some of the toughest crime legislation and increasingly criminalized behavior and certain groups of people (especially immigrants and youth of color). One of the reasons for this "we're tougher than you" stance by supposed liberals is the mainstreaming of right-wing ideas and solutions on crime that exploits the racism prevalent in society. And so, we began asking ourselves, if this is the reality we face, how can PRA, as a progressive research organization, frame its analysis to produce research that is both nuanced and relevant to the activist groups working on the ground?
This question, and the process of publishing Defending Justice, has also had an enormous impact on the way we do our work here at PRA. For one, while we have always done our work centering the needs of grassroots activists and communities, we want to especially support the work of people of color, immigrants, low-income communities, and youth. And, we also want to move beyond just publishing our research to actively ensure that not only can multiple audiences access our analysis, but also find it useful in their everyday work. This is grounded in our belief that it is the people most affected by the Right as well as systemic oppression who should be at the forefront of challenging those forces.
Secondly, as many of us found the political environment to be increasingly complex, we began seriously debating deepening our analysis beyond the Political Right to cover broader systemic oppression. We know that for substantial numbers of people in this country, especially but not limited to those working on criminal justice issues, it is not just the Political Right that is the oppressor but also the system and/or State that perpetuates oppression. This is especially the case with people of color, low-income folks, immigrants, and youth. An analysis of the Right alone cannot explain the whole picture.
We envision PRA's future role to be one of supporting the infrastructure of the growing progressive movement in this country, where it continues to provide useful and accurate analysis of the Right as well as other forces of oppression. We hope that you find Defending Justice useful and informative, and, as always, we welcome your feedback and suggestions.